The Value of Written Systems & Operations
By Jennifer Wolf-Pierson, CPACO
Whether you call them written policies, standard operating procedures (SOP’s), business strategies or your modus operandi, you probably have one or two of these lying around your facility. So, how do you take them from collecting dust to utilizing them as live, valuable tools? And why would you even want to bring them off that shelf where they’ve been sitting since your grand opening?
Now is the time to practice message control with regard to how your business operates. Your facility is your vision, not anyone else’s. You put in the work; you’ve spent thousands or even millions to build the business you envisioned, so don’t let individual employees care for your pet guests or interact with your clients in any way besides how you specifically want it to be done. But without written instructions, how will your staff know what you expect of them?
Even the strongest of teams need structure and guidance. Defining your expectations in writing creates the clear message that will be portrayed to your clients through the excellent, consistent operations of your staff. All this is possible if you communicate your vision properly.
Consistency of Care and Service
We all like knowing what to expect. That’s why most franchise companies are generally safer bets than complete startups. It’s not just that the franchise puts out a better product or service, but that they provide a predictable service each and every time. Think McDonalds—where you’ll get the exact same burger in Colorado as you would in Florida. That’s their real magic…consistency of how the product is produced—not only the yummy fries!
When a pet goes home from a lodging stay, our staff is required to make eight things happen at pickup. The following checklist is from our SOP:
- Introduce yourself by name.
- Take responsibility for the health and happiness of the pet during the stay.
- Share something specific to that pet.
- Make one suggestion for next time.
- Inform the owner of appetite and elimination patterns.
- Inform the owner of the last completed meal time.
- Thank the owner.
- Help them out to the car.
Sharing the feeding information prevents the parents from having to call us to find out when he is due his next meal at home. They are always thanked and sent home with the same consistent information on their pet’s care. If expectations were not documented for our staff, each person would either not interact with the parent or make up their own script. And, over time, your message and consistency would probably change or cease to exist.
Everyone wants structure, and, in general, I believe everyone wants to do a good job. Not only are you not going to be able to personally train each new staff member, but you have to remember everyone learns in a different way. As you build your training program, make sure that you are not only teaching kinetically, but you are also providing written and visual instructions using your SOP’s. This way, as new topics are introduced, the staff member reads, sees and does the process, covering all the ways that different personalities retain information.
We use checklists that reference the policy or section of the SOP to cover. We start the topic by having the new staff member read the section, then we have them watch the procedure in action, and finally, we ask them to do it with supervision. This streamlines the process and helps us guarantee that each topic is fully covered.
What is a “win” for a staff member? How do they know if they are meeting expectations or completing the work to your specifications? One of the struggles in staff development is deciding if underperformance is due to “I don’t want to” or “I don’t know how to”.
Your SOP’s are an invaluable tool for employee management, as long as the employee was properly trained. You have probably heard a staff member say, “I was never taught that”, as an excuse for why they didn’t complete a task properly. During the training process, you can reference your training checklist in the SOP in which the employee acknowledges that they have an understanding and the ability to complete the procedures.
If you don’t have documented, written instructions, an apathetic employee can always hide behind the excuse of lack of training. This wastes your time and theirs. Lift up those who may not understand with training, and push out the “don’t want to” people!
There is a particular author and business coach that comes to mind every time SOPs are discussed. His name is Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited. One frequently-quoted chapter, “Chapter 9: Working On Your Business, Not In It,” drives home the importance of written documentation of operations. Within this chapter, one sentence really stood out to me: “Without documentation, all routinized work turns into exceptions.”
Make sure you have expectations for our team members—not exceptions!
Jennifer Wolf-Pierson, CPACO is a certified pet care professional serving the Spring/Woodlands/North Houston area. Since 2016, Jennifer has served as General Manager at ABC Pet Resort & Spa and coach for Suzanne and Al Locker’s Pet Care Facility Management Boot Camp. The Boot Camp program, in partnership with Turnkey. Inc., a design, build and consulting group, has helped a wide variety of businesses get on track, from start-up to maturity. For more information on Boot Camp or Turnkey, Inc., visit www.petcarebootcamp.com or www.turn-keyinc.com.